* The new Mazda MX-5, above and below.
Mazda MX-5 RF road test by Steve Rogers
Maza has beefed up the world's favourite sports car.
The MX-5 has been given a power boost, an extra 23bhp for the top of the range two-litre, yet it is the sound rather than the extra grunt that provides most of the thrills.
This is a car that makes a big noise thanks to some tuning trickery with the exhaust silencer. It gives a more powerful note and had me thinking the little sports car was a lot quicker when the reality is only around half a second off the sprint time for the hard top RF I was driving. On the convertible it's more like a second, lowering the sprint to 62mph to 6.5 seconds.
The extra horsepower isn't down to just chipping the engine on a computer. The engine has been heavily reworked with lighter pistons and con rods, changes to the camshafts, new fuel injectors, throttle and exhaust valves.
Crucially the red line has been raised from 6500 to 7500rpm and this has made a big difference giving the MX more legs when pushing hard. To round things off the engine upgrade, emissions are lower than the old 157bhp version.
For now the revised engine is only in the top of the range GT Sport Nav+ but it will filter down the model range over the next few months.
There are no visual changes, the MX-5 is already perfectly formed, but more safety features have been added and the steering wheel now adjusts for reach, a little thing may be but something that goes a long way to achieving a comfortable driving position. That's not always been easy for people with short legs.
Since the day it was launched in 1989 the Lotus Elan look-a-like has been a hoot to drive but what we have now is probably the pinnacle of the MX-5 experience. The car's balance and sticking power is phenomenal, coupled with super quick and accurate steering. You point and it hits the target with pin sharp accuracy.
Not always the most comfortable but why would you expect anything else from a short wheelbased sports car? And although the gearbox has a nice short throw gate it is on the notchy side. There is barely any space for oddments in the cabin and boot space is tight, probably no more than a cabin sized case plus some bits and bobs but such imperfections are easily forgiven.
If more space is important then have a look at a Mini cabriolet.
So the big question. Soft top or RF? It has to be the RF (retractable fastback) beautifully crafted and a proper all year round sports car.
The folding roof has to be the cleverest design of all time. The hard top is made up of three sections with two folding away leaving the side fins and roof bar in place. The two folding sections tuck neatly away above the boot line so nothing goes into the boot.
The roof sections are made of steel, aluminium and plastic and have added just 45kg to the car's weight so you will notice no difference in handling over the ragtop.
Nearly all the Mazda range now has the excellent head up display projecting speed and navigation directions in the driver's eyeline on the windscreen but it is yet to come to the MX which is a disappointment given the small speedometer and no digital read out. Certainly something to think about.
The beauty of the MX-5 is that it is affordable with the soft top starting at £18,995. Okay, it's not got the raw power of an Audi TT RS or Porsche Boxster, but it is a traditional two seater roadster providing adequate performance and a polished driving experience.
MX-5 RF GT Sport Nav+
0-62mph 6.8secs; 137mph
Road tax £140 (first year £515)
Insurance group 31